New Anglican cracks emerge as rebel clergy group condemns 'tragic developments' on sexuality issues

General Synod in York.File pic by Reuters

Rebel conservative Anglican clergy have condemned the general synod for failing in its duties and allowing 'tragic developments' when it voted to condemn so-called gay 'conversion therapy' and to consider liturgical support to Christians who 'transition' from one gender to another.

The 21 signatories to the statement, published on the Anglican Ink website, state that 'we, as some of those committed to the renewal of biblical and orthodox Anglicanism have already started to meet, on behalf of our fellow Anglicans, to discuss how to ensure a faithful ecclesial future'.

Referring to the votes passed at synod in York earlier this month, the statement says: 'Many will share our dismay at the recent decisions...and the pursuing principles, values and practices contrary to Holy Scripture and church Tradition.

'Given the persistent failure of the majority of the House of Bishops to fulfil the God-given duties which they have sworn to discharge these tragic developments were, sadly, not wholly unexpected.

'Accordingly, and in preparation for such eventualities we, as some of those committed to the renewal of biblical and orthodox Anglicanism have already started to meet, on behalf of our fellow Anglicans, to discuss how to ensure a faithful ecclesial future. We now wish that we have done so to be more widely known.

'Our number is drawn from bishops, clergy and laity, from across Great Britain and from a breadth of traditions. Much more importantly, however, we meet joyfully united by a shared endorsement of the terms of the Jerusalem Declaration [a 'doctrinal confession' signed by members of the conservative GAFCON group in 2008].

'We will meet again, as planned and with external facilitation, mediation and episcopal advice, in October. It is our intention to welcome on that occasion an even greater diversity of contributors.'

The signatories include Dr Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen, the leading evangelical Susie Leafe, who is director of the conservative group Reform, Rt Rev Andy Lines, ACNA Bishop with Special Mission, James Paice, a trustee of the Southwark Good Stewards Trust and Andrew Symes, the executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream.

Ashenden told Christian Today he was concerned about 'a change of culture as regards sexual ethics' and an 'unfaithful and secularised' form of Anglicanism. He also accused bishops of reneging on their duties to stand up for the Christian faith.

Ashenden said: 'I signed this document because that I believe despite Archbishop Welby's promises that he does not plan to oversee any formal change of doctrine, it is intended that there should be a change of culture as regards sexual ethics, abandoning those the Church should be committed to and replacing them with others that are in complete opposition to both Scripture and dominical teaching. If anyone had any doubt about this before the last General Synod, there can be no doubt about it now. It becomes a bit of casuistry to say that there are no plans to change formal doctrine while encouraging change in liturgy and culture.

'The Bishops of the Church of England – who voted almost unanimously in favour of these changes – have reneged on their primary responsibility to defend and articulate the Christian faith. That leaves a vacuum of episcopal oversight that will need to be addressed. I look forward to working with others to remedy that in a way that will lead to a renewed faithful Anglicanism in this country in contrast to an unfaithful and secularised one.'

Leafe told Christian Today: 'My desire is that those that share those concerns meet together, learn from one another and work out how best to ensure faithful Anglican ministry in the UK in the future. As the statement says it is important that others know that this is happening so that they can join us in the task and help shape that future.'

The motions that provoked the document were one from Jayne Ozanne, asking for synod to agree with psychiatric medical opinion on the harm done by 'conversion therapy', and another from Blackburn Diocese proposed by Chris Newlands asking that the Church affirm its welcome of transgender people, and that the House of Bishops 'consider whether it might prepare liturgy' for such a welcome.

The new document comes after Leafe earlier this month wrote a paper warning that the future of the Church is imperiled and that 'God's word was mocked openly' at synod.

Her paper came after Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, the leader of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, slammed the synod for 'false teaching' and warned that it is in 'grave spiritual danger'.

Leafe wrote: 'Again and again, both the decisions made, and the manner in which they were made, showed scant regard for Scripture or the traditions of the Church. Instead, members were asked to base their decisions on emotional stories or the impact of secular headlines.

'More worryingly, perhaps, was the atmosphere of the chamber; God's word was mocked openly and decisions were made lightly, with arrogant laughter. As one member put it: "God is not mocked. The laughter and lack of respect for those who bravely gave the alternate case was beyond words. Bruised, battered, bullied, betrayed, bewildered."'

In May, a blueprint for schism seen by Christian Today revealed extensive plans by conservative evangelicals to form a rival Anglican structure to the Church of England in the UK.

The proposals, born out of concerns about liberal teachings on homosexuality, included suggestions for a new synod, new liturgy, an appointments system for new bishops, new church canons and new statements of belief.

The document was leaked to Christian Today after one conservative church in Newcastle went ahead and made one of its clergy a bishop.

Rev Jonathan Pryke, of Jesmond Parish Church, was consecrated by the presiding bishop of a renegade Anglican faction in South Africa outside the authority of the Church of England.

The developments come after GAFCON, a grouping of conservative Anglicans around the world which is set to meet next year, announced plans for a 'missionary bishop' to oversee parishes in the UK discontented with their more liberal local bishop.

One of the signatories of the new document, James Paice, told Christian Today: 'I think we are seeing a redrawing of the Anglican landscape in the UK. This has already begun in Scotland, and it's happening in England. People are looking for other routes for ordination. Where leadership is lacking – leadership abhors a vacuum – you will find other leadership rising up.'

Paice pointed to a recent civil partnership between two female clergy which took place at Southwark Cathedral earlier this month as one of the factors which provoked him into signing the new document.

However, the document came under criticism from Ian Paul, the conservative theologian and a member of the Archbishop's Council. After writing a recent lengthy blog post attacking the synod for putting emotion before theology, Paul told Christian Today that the new statement was 'incorrect'. He said: 'Synod has not crossed any line—and that is the heart of the problem. Both motions were couched in purely pastoral terms, and do not formally change anything in the C of E. It is the salami-slice approach of those who want to see change, and the wording of the motions made it difficult for anyone to disagree – do you support abusing people? Do you want to make anyone unwelcome?'

Paul added that unlike the signatories of the new document, he did not subscribe to GAFCON'S Jerusalem Declaration.

Meanwhile the Anglican Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, pointed out on his own blog that the synod did not change doctrine and will not in the future. 'Neither vote changes the church's doctrine – and those fearful that orthodox teaching is slipping should be reassured that the membership of the current House of Bishops makes the prospect of doctrinal change remote,' he wrote.